A marriage of idyll and art

I had heard so much about the Art Islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima in the past few years that they were on my must-visit list.

When I got there, however, I realised that it was more than modern art that drew me to these former fishing villages.

Most people visit Naoshima and Teshima to see famous modern art these days. It seems like a given: when you’re in Japan and have access to high-speed rail travel, reliable ferry timetables and helpful local folks, why not detour to see what the fuss is about? As it is with noteworthy destinations of interest, expect crowds when you get there.

Naively, I forgot all about peak travel periods and their related volumes of human bodies clamouring to be in the same space. As soon as I see queues for something, I lose interest, possibly because I come from another island where people queue for hours for silly things. Thankfully, there’s not just art on islands. That half of our travel plans was not feasible for the most part, but the other half, cycling, was.

Two wheels is a good idea

Even without art, Matthew and I spent full days cycling on Naoshima and Teshima. We whizzed down streets and up torturous inclines on our rented electric bikes, admiring the prolific sakura bloom and the concrete façades we passed and sometimes ventured to visit. It was so much fun!

Teshima, I found, was the perfect place for a rest stop after two weeks of whirlwind travel (so much to see!) There were fewer people, and it had an even more languorous island-life feel, complete with dusty snoozy cats reclining on its tidy, winding streets. We were ambitious enough to cycle up Mt Danyama, the island’s peak, and check out a display of windchimes in the forest. Even more exciting was when we encountered a near-miss with a compact van carefully making its way down a narrow gravel path.

I still had some questions upon departure.

Without art, would these islands thrive? Tourism is inherently consumer-focused, and does consuming art instead of goods scale back the amount of waste made and generated for this purpose? Very possibly, I thought, as I found a subtle level of control the islands had over what we ate, where we could eat that food, and what we could take home. Experience, yes; goods, only if it’s locally made. In that way, I imagined the entire premise of the Art Islands to be an exhibition and practice of no-waste.